Begawan welcomed the year 2022 with a new program in farming, collaborating with local farmers in Bayad, Melinggih Kelod, Gianyar, Bali. The initiative follows our research into the significant history of agriculture in Bali and how it has changed since the Green Revolution of the 1970s, which focused on increasing rice yields through the use of agrochemicals. Begawan has begun its farming program with a rice cultivation project implementing a locally adapted regenerative approach, focusing on improving the degraded soil and increasing the rice yield.

After delivering over 20 tons of natural compost to the 4,200m2 rice fields to begin the process of soil regeneration, the farmers commenced planting the rice seedlings in mid-February. Three weeks passed, and it was time for our farmers to eliminate weeds from the rice fields. Weed growth is a natural environmental process. However, without proper management, weeds will prevent the rice plants’ access to the much-needed sunlight, nutrients, water, and space to grow. Weeds can also serve as hosts for pests and diseases. Therefore, proper weed control is essential to ensure rice growth and productivity.

There are a range of weeding approaches in rice farming; yet, since the development of agrochemicals, many farmers have used chemical herbicides as a quick method to eliminate weeds. Rice has thus become one of the major crops that receives a high quantity of agrochemicals. To some extent, using chemical herbicides can reduce the labour required to manage weeds, however it comes with detrimental consequences, primarily for the environment and human health.

The rampant use of agrochemicals contributes largely to the deterioration of soil fertility, the environment and the wider ecosystem. The use of herbicides in rice cultivation directly contaminates soil, air and water. Ongoing use of herbicides can cause weeds to develop a resistance to herbicides whilst also eliminating non-targeted plants, resulting in a potential decrease in biodiversity. Glyphosate, Roundup, and all its formulations contained in herbicides in the market have been banned in dozens of countries worldwide because of their toxicity to humans. Various research shows that Glyphosate and Roundup activate mechanisms in the human body that can be involved in cancer development.

Understanding the detrimental impacts of agrochemicals in weed management, Begawan and its local farmers commit to implementing non-chemical weed control to ensure rice productivity. We adopt three approaches; manual weeding, biological weeding, and using botanicals to reduce weeds. 

Firstly, manual weeding is a traditional method of weed control using a hoe, a sickle, and pulling out weeds by hand. This method is relatively easy because the seedlings are planted in rows. Some researchers have shown that traditional weeding methods can be more efficient than agrochemicals. Secondly, biological weeding will be implemented by introducing ducks to the rice fields. Ducks tear up weeds, prey on pests and leave their manure behind as organic fertiliser for the rice plants and the soil. Thirdly, using a botanical substance such as coco-peat. It is used as mulch on the surface of the rice fields to reduce the emergence of weeds. 

No one weed control method is likely to control all weeds. The integration of direct weeding methods, such as hand weeding, with indirect ones, such as coco-peat mulching and ducks fossicking in the rice fields, increase the possibility for improved yields. Therefore, a combination of different methods for weed management is essential to ensure success. (Sintia Dewi)

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